Church: White Bear Lake UMC
District: Twin Cities
Submitted by: Glenn Oliphant
In the backyard of White Bear Lake United Methodist Church sits a beautiful stone-ensconced bread oven. This wood-fired brick oven was inspired by Pastor Bryce Johnson, who has long had a love of working with dough and baking bread.
In 2009, it occurred to Johnson that in Europe in the 1800s and early 1900s, brick ovens were the centerpiece of village life. Once or twice a week, the community oven was fired, and villagers brought their homemade bread dough to the center of the village to bake. As they waited for the bread, they conversed with one another and debated politics. The bread was essential for building strong bodies, and the oven was vital to building a strong community.
Johnson shared his experience of baking dough in these community ovens and expressed his desire to build a bread oven on the church grounds. Funding and volunteers were quickly put into place, and construction was started in July 2010. Within ten weeks, the oven was built and a celebration ensued that involved baking 70 pizzas and serving more than 300 people.
Since then, the oven has brought the White Bear Lake community together on many occasions—and provided an opportunity for local residents to get to know the church. The church now hosts community bread-baking events on the first Saturday of every month. In June of this year, at a White Bear Lake Manitou Days event, more than 900 community members were served pizza from the oven.
The oven has an engraved stone on it that says “Bread of Life.” That’s symbolic of what Christ means to the congregation, which has embraced this ministry and provides many of the volunteers who prepare, bake, and serve at the events that are scheduled throughout the year.
Last year, member Glenn Oliphant was looking for an opportunity to serve his church and some friends suggested working with the bread oven.
“I felt that it was a calling that I had been looking for, and I jumped in with both feet,” Oliphant says. “I felt strongly that we should call our efforts the bread oven ministry as this bread oven will be used to ‘nourish the hungers of life’ in so many ways and allow us to strengthen our church and our community.”
By organizing teams to complete specific tasks involving the oven, the church has seen strong leadership and training skills develop in the people involved. The ministry has provided the opportunity to develop friendships, enjoy fellowship, and have lots of fun. The congregation sees many opportunities to continue to connect with the community in the future.
“There are many hungers,” says Johnson. “Food is just among the most basic. There’s a hunger to connect with people. There’s a hunger to connect to the earth. There is a hunger to connect with the sacred and with God. [The] act of baking bread together can address each of these.”
Learn more about the White Bear Lake United Methodist Church Community Bread Oven.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church